The new Wild West – minerals necessary for clean energy production

Green minerals such as cobalt are essential for producing clean energy technologies, such as electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels. However, there are several social and economic challenges to obtaining these minerals sustainably.

Fragile states

These minerals are concentrated in a few countries, which can create geopolitical tensions and dependence on a small number of suppliers. For example, about 60% of the world's cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has a history of conflict, corruption and human rights abuses in its mining sector.

Impact of mining on nature and health

Mining can cause deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution and biodiversity loss. Moreover, some mining practices involve the use of toxic chemicals.

Working conditions

Miners are often badly paid, exploited and work in dangerous conditions. In the DRC, for example, child labour is prevalent in the cobalt mining industry, where they can face cave-ins, landslides and exposure to toxic chemicals.

Price volatility

The prices of minerals like cobalt are subject to market fluctuations. Moreover, increasing demand spurs competition to access them, leading to rising prices and potential supply chain disruptions. This can make clean energy technologies less affordable or available, slowing the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Economic change
Environmental change
Social change
James Persad
, 17 July 2023

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